In May, the Habiger Institute Catholic Studies Leadership Interns set off for a weeklong experiential learning spring institute. The biannual institutes rotate in theme and location: Washington, D.C., for advocacy and public policy; Chicago for business and ethics; and Denver for charity and poverty.
This year, the interns traveled to Denver, where they worked with Christ in the City, a Catholic organization that cares for Denver’s chronically homeless and accompanies those experiencing homelessness. The interns met with Catholic leaders who founded or support organizations that care for the materially and spiritually poor, including Catholic Charities, FOCUS and the Augustine Institute. The retreat finished with reflection on the week and the call to Catholic leadership. Here are personal highlights from some participants.
Senior, economics, psychology and Catholic studies
“I met John, a man in his late 50s, who was living on the streets. He was a man of few words and was extremely difficult to talk to. He was quiet, reserved and sad. When I walked up to him the first thing I noticed was that a tear was rolling down his cheek. This man was clearly lonely, trying to go through his difficult reality one day at a time. He was struggling with memory loss, as he continued to ask me the same question over and over again. … But, what struck me about this man and this encounter was that, in a very real way, I saw myself in him. … I realized that even though our circumstances were different, and I am coming from a place of privilege, we are not so different.”
“I was worn out from a difficult semester and wasn’t excited about spending a week serving and living in an environment I knew would be difficult and uncomfortable at times. As it turned out, that experience – spending a week focusing completely on loving the people around me and meeting people who already do this in extraordinary ways – was exactly what I needed! I came to recognize that our world badly needs leaders who are concerned not with looking after themselves, but with faithfully and generously employing their own gifts in the service of God and others.”
Alicia (Karls) Zepp
“[F]or these friends that we had encountered, there is nothing between them and their choices, the sins they’ve committed, or the habits they’ve created. There were no material goods to hamper their judgment and cloud their perspective. They had nothing to hide their poverty, and so they were extremely vulnerable and humbled. This made me think of myself and all of us who have so many distractions that we can’t see our own poverty. … I was left wondering, ‘Am I more like the homeless, the vulnerable and pure of heart? Or, am I more like the busy and distracted person, caught up in myself, unable to see the other?’”
High school English and history teacher, Omaha
“I had always thought those experiencing homelessness were severely mentally ill or dangerous people but, in fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong. After meeting some friends on the streets, hearing their stories and praying with them, I realized that many of them became homeless through a series of difficult situations – many dealing with broken family lives and unexpected unemployment. I was moved to be so much more grateful for all the blessings and privileges I have had in my own life. And, to see each person as a child of God.”
Saint Paul’s Outreach Mission Center administrator
“[Another intern] and I walked up to two men chatting in a park and, when we introduced ourselves, they revealed that they had been discussing whether following Christ is a daily choice or something you just ‘roll with.’ We may have had our own theological opinions on the matter, but the most remarkable thing was how aware these men, and so many of the others whom we met, were of how their own particular choices had led them to their current situation. These men were a great reminder to me of how seriously I need to take my own choices, no matter how small. Their willingness to engage with us was a reminder of how beautiful the choice to live life with our brothers and sisters can truly be.”
Senior, political science, Catholic studies and the Renaissance program
“As a society, we have a tendency to lump [the homeless] into a separate category. This is simply not the case. [A homeless man named] Kevin showcased in our conversation that both his level of intelligence and his knowledge of Scripture were every bit as formed as mine. These qualities, paired with his high level of charity, helped me realize that he was just a regular person, with gifts, skills and desires. There isn’t a ‘them’ and an ‘us’ … we are all poor, whether we know it or not.”
Alejandra Chavez Rivas
Senior, business and Catholic studies
“I have a daughter and my love for her is unconditional. She has taught me that love has no limits. But, when I encountered the people that I met struggling with poverty, it was definitely a challenging task to care for them and love them without judgment. There was one gentleman who yelled at us, ‘What are you doing here? What do you plan to accomplish?’ He questioned our presence, our end goal. It did not feel good to be yelled at, to watch people walk down the streets, judging you, ignoring you, looking at you with a disgust in their faces, but I walked away with so much that day. This man helped me change my perspective of the way I should look at, treat and love another human person.”